When I first moved to Germany for my Master’s, I was overwhelmed because it was a new country for me and this was the first time I had set foot outside of Asia. I was happy that I got to come to Germany for my studies, but I was also a little scared for the first few weeks- no friends, language barrier and a lot of new things to learn. Luckily for me, I had an aunt living in Germany, who helped me get adapted very fast. Thus moving to Germany was a little less overwhelming for me.
I have been living in Germany for seven years now. I started as a student, moved on to being a researcher after my master’s and now I am again a student (pursuing my Ph.D.). There are many good things and some great things that happened to me while in Germany; there are many things I like and some things I absolutely love; I meet a lot of new people and learn a lot of new things.
But, in this post, I will describe all the problems and cultural shocks based on either my own experience or those from my direct non-German friends and family living in Germany.
Many foreigners, especially those from countries like India, are very close to their parents. After coming to Germany where you may have no friends, and very few people may speak your own language or understand your own culture, you may feel very very far away from your family and friends. I used to call my parents very regularly, almost daily for the first few months. Some of my friends from India still talk to their parents every day, after 5+ years in Germany. No matter how cool the thought of studying abroad may feel, once you actually stay in a foreign location (especially if you have never wandered too far from home), combined with the stress of studies or job, it could start to take a toll on you emotionally.
For some others, this is the time when they experience Freedom – no direct interference from parents or relatives in their life.
Some things that many people miss is the community feeling that you get when you are with the people that are from the same culture… the festivals, the events, the spirit for your own festivals and culture.
Life will be hard if you don’t speak German. At least, basic German is needed even for going to a supermarket if you will live in a smaller city. For socializing with locals, a good grasp of German in a must. Many Germans can speak at least some English; but, good luck having them continue speaking in English especially when you are grouped with a German majority.
If your study course or job requires German, then passing an exam may depend more on your German proficiency then the actual difficulty of the exam. Or if everyone at your job interacts in German, you will need to master German to work efficiently. The language barrier makes it difficult to interact with and get help from non-English speaking colleagues or batch-mates.
Not knowing German is a big issue; but, not being good at English as well (in some cases) complicates things even further as you cannot communicate with the international community which is the best chance of making friends at the start.
If you have learned German in your home country, that is a big plus! Only minor issues will involve learning the local dialect esp. in a place like Bavaria (which will help you integrate faster).
You will have to organize your own studies. There is no one to hold your hand and lead you through the study course like in many Asian universities. The burden of learning is on you and not the university. You will need to structure your own course and set your own priorities.
On the one hand passing exams in Germany is not so hard, but on the other hand, getting a good grade can be difficult. Unlike in many countries where you can get a good score in an exam by just remembering the textbook, in Germany one needs to understand the course material in depth to score well. If you are okay working hard and spending time understanding each course in depth (which will cut into your time for partying, enjoying summer, etc. and/or make you study duration longer than expected), then you can get top grades in Germany.
Many exams, esp. in higher education, are oral. For foreign students, especially those who have recently arrived in the country, and are not used to oral exams back home, may struggle much more than if they were taking a written exam.
Also, the lack of standardization of questions can lead to situations which may be perceived as unfair.
More about studying in Germany: how hard is studying in Germany?
Work culture in Germany may not be the same as the country you come from. Expect all your work including projects, proposals, etc. to be compartmentalized and examined in great detail. Don’t take things for granted. Always be prepared to back each idea up with logical and convincing information. Simply put, be present-minded and do the work required.
Treating others, with respect is very important. Titles and certification are taken seriously in Germany. One should always address their superiors with formal pronouns and titles unless directed otherwise (this doesn’t mean a junior will be afraid to put his ideas in front of a superior). The focus should be on remaining professional and respectful and no beating around the bush!
If you are most motivated by compliments for a job well done and can’t handle honest criticism and bluntness, working in Germany may not be for you (That doesn’t mean people will be making rude comments rather there will be straightforward communication without euphemism).
Gifts, attempting to smooth-talk, or partaking will backfire pretty quickly.
It’s common and natural for workers in other countries to ease into a business meeting with a bit of small talk, this couldn’t be farther from the case in many German offices. Small talk is not very satisfying and perceived as something that’s superficial. Also, one is expected to keep personal and private life separate.
Not all foreigners are obsessed with punctuality and following rules like the Germans. You may have to learn to be punctual very quickly.
Germans believe rules, regulations, and laws are meant to be followed. one needs to learn the expectations and then abide by them.
This one got a very long time for me to get used to. I very happily got a Gym membership after coming to Germany and went to the locker room to change my clothes; a locker room filled with naked dudes. Nudity in the locker room was one thing, but it was a real shock when a Female employee entered the Men’s locker room for cleaning in front of a bunch of naked guys! Also, mixed gender saunas (no swimsuits allowed) filled with sweaty naked people are a shock!
When new (especially when you don’t have a part-time job), many of us end up converting the German prices to our own currencies and comparing it to the cost of the same product back home. Esp. eating in restaurants or buying a bus ticket can be a big shock!
We are very used domestic help in countries like India. But here, You will have to do all the house chores on your own except if you are very rich and can afford to pay the high prices for hiring a maid or live in a hotel room.
Not only is it hard to do all household work, but you will have to balance your time to do chores with studying as well.
Living in Germany requires doing a lot of paper…. Contracts (and remembering to cancel/renew them on time) for internet, apartment, phone, etc., insurance paperwork, city registration, etc. They take valuable time and energy (and money in case if something goes wrong).
A need to take an appointment for many things which work without an appointment in other countries!
Shops are almost never closed in India and have long working hours. Most shops are closed in Germany on Sunday. Opening hours may be as less as 08:00 to 19:00 for shops in a smaller city or on the outskirts of a bigger city.
Germans say what they mean and mean what they say. Germans do not use euphemisms to soften a message. Many foreigners may not be used to this and can feel insulted or offended.
It may be hard to make friends or have a social life esp. if you don’t drink or don’t do sports or don’t have some hobbies that involve others (like board games).
SEE ALSO: How to integrate in Germany?
Also, You will always need to make new friends. Expats have a tendency to move a lot. By the time you are close to a friend, it is time for you or them to move to a different city or a new country!
Some other general issues any foreigner may face are:
Some good tips: Tips to mentally prepare for studying in Germany
Despite some of the issues and cultural differences, feelings of upswing occur when you are successfully able to manage many of the challenges. Some foreigners, esp. those from traditional backgrounds, react to this initial adjustment phase slower than the others. But at the end, you would not only have overcome huge the cultural differences but also learned to live in a country where almost no one spoke your language (or English), neither did they truly understand your culture. This will provide you with confidence, flexibility and an ability to handle any challenges thrown at you in future life.
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